updated 05/15/2013 AT 1:00 PM ET
•originally published 05/15/2013 AT 2:00 PM ET
On Feb. 2, Angelina Jolie, 37, began the long, complex process of undergoing a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery – yet she still kept living her very full life without anyone around her the wiser. How did she do it?
Her father Jon Voight, 74, with whom she reconciled after a difficult relationship, told the New York Daily News that he was surprised along with the rest of the world to learn of his daughter’s surgeries, saying that he understood her decision.
“I want the focus to be on the inspiration,” he said.
Though a source confirms that the actress’s private obstetrician-gynecologist visited her on several occasions in January, her schedule – and her kids’ schedules – remained unchanged.
“Things appeared normal,” a family insider told PEOPLE. “The kids were in school during the day and attending after-school activities as they always do.”
On Feb. 10, the actress was front and center at the 27th Annual American Society of Cinematographers Awards presentation in Los Angeles to give a lifetime achievement award to Dean Semler, her cinematographer for her directorial debut In the Land of Blood and Honey, smiling and posing for pictures.
No Changes to Her Schedule
On Valentine’s Day, Brad Pitt and Jolie took 4-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne to the National History Museum in Los Angeles, where they were all seen chatting and laughing, according to a museum source.
At this point, as Jolie wrote in her New York Times op-ed piece, she had begun the challenging “nipple delay” procedure that she described as causing “some pain and a lot of bruising.”
Two days after Valentine’s Day, she would have major surgery to remove breast tissue and have fillers inserted. Still, on her trip to the Nzolo refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo in March to speak with rape survivors, no one in her group had a clue anything was different.
“Normal life for her meant going to the Congo with the foreign secretary, William Hague,” British journalist Cathy Newman, who was also on the trip, wrote on Channel 4’s website. “I had not the slightest inkling of what she was going through. We travelled for hours to various camps for people displaced by war, along horrendously bumpy, volcanic tracks. For a woman recovering from major surgery, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been.”
On April 1, she took her twins on an shopping trip to Auntie Barbara’s Kids in Beverly Hills, where she helped her youngest shop for toys for their older siblings as well as themselves.
Part of the shopping trip may have been an indication that someone in the house needed recovery time: the selection of cozy pajamas.
“She said, ‘I would like you to each pick out a pair of cozy pajamas that you can wear when you’re not feeling good,’,” says a store source.
Just days later, Jolie appeared in New York at the Women in the World Summit to speak about the bravery of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai and, a day later, shopped at FAO Schwarz with Knox and Pax.
On April 11, the jet-setting mom and UN Goodwill Ambassador spoke to the ministers of the G8 in London about violence against women in conflict.
“You could never tell what Angie has been going through,” says the family insider. “Angie might have seemed a bit more tired than usual, but otherwise things have seemed very normal.”
Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has spoken with Jolie, posted on his Facebook page on May 14 that the actress only wanted to use her medical issues to open a national conversation on women’s health options.
“No self-pity there,” he wrote. “She just wants to help out. And that’s why she shows again that she’s the gold standard of celebrity activist.”
Reporting by Phil Boucher, Peter Mikelbank, Pernilla Cedenheim and Aili Nahas
For much more on this story, including Jolie’s family’s life during her treatment, how Brad has supported Angelina and how her mom inspired her, pick up this week’s PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday